‘Inbound marketing’ and ‘outbound marketing’ are terms which have been knocking around for years, but I’m not sure there’s any agreed definition of precisely what they mean. My colleague and occasional contributor here, Andrew Leon Walker, touched on the subject of content marketing last week, and content marketing is a critical element of inbound marketing. Here’s my take.
‘Outbound marketing’ is where you buy your prospect’s attention. It’s the advertising model which has been used since the dawn of commerce. It’s also the only advertising model which many non-marketers understand, including a lot of senior management. Normally it interrupts the prospect’s activity to scream: “Look at me! Listen to what I have to say!”. Hundreds of years of experience tells us it works, but it is expensive, and somewhat hit and miss.
‘Inbound marketing’ is a far more subtle alternative which has only really been made possible at scale by the internet. Here, you provide something compelling for your prospects and let them find you. Where outbound marketing usually starts from a position of mistrust which has to be overcome, inbound marketing says from the outset: “You can trust us, because you found us“. Permission is sought to begin a relationship, and things move on from there.
It’s astonishing how inbound marketing can snowball. For example, people often ask me how I find the time to write this article every day. I do so by costing out my time, and treating it as marketing expenditure. Nearly all of the 100+ companies we’ve worked for in the past few years have approached us, usually after having been readers here for quite a while. They come when they are ready. Sometimes it takes years, but that’s fine. Meanwhile, new readers find us and join the circulation every week.
In an engineering or scientific field, creating content as the backbone of an inbound marketing programme is even easier, because there’s far less competition. There’s also so much fantastic technical knowledge in-house just waiting to be put into words and made available. If I was the marketing manager in industry, starting a content creation programme and a distribution service would be my very first priority.